Bettencourt leads Hilmar soccer against Ripon

She let fly with a left-footed volley that kissed off the far post.

Moments later, she planted hard off two feet and rose in front of the goal, meeting a cross with her forehead.

Haylee Bettencourt's left knee -- the one with several dime-sized scars around the cap -- is fine.

No brace. No sleeve or wrap.

No excuses.

"It's good," she says, sounding as though she's given the update half-a-million times.

Bettencourt missed half of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee.

The Hilmar midfielder and former Western Athletic Conference MVP tried to play on it in last year's playoffs, tried to defend Hilmar's run of Sac-Joaquin Section championships, but was limited by the pain.

She played five minutes of a first-round loss to Ripon and then watched a third section championship leave town on the visitor's yellow bus.

"I felt like I was letting my team down," Bettencourt said. "Everyone was telling me not to play -- doctors, parents, friends."

Healthy once again, Bettencourt has brought her team back to the source of its frustration: the first round of the Division V playoffs against Ripon (17-2-3), the top seed from the Trans Valley League.

Today marks the fourth straight postseason meeting between the two. The game starts at 3:30 p.m. at Ripon's soccer complex, Mistlin Park.

The return of Bettencourt stokes an already burning rivalry between future conference foes. Hilmar (14-6-3) will be realigned into the TVL next year.

"Our history with Hilmar is filled with lots of emotion. We've got a long memory of Hilmar beating the snot out of us for years," Ripon assistant coach Bryce Perkins said. "There have been a lot of famous Ripon-Hilmar soccer games, especially lately. There have been three in the last four years everyone has a vivid memory of.

"We're just on a collision course for each other. That's how it is for us."

In 2006, Ripon finally snapped a 25-game losing streak to Hilmar with a 1-1 draw on the final afternoon of the regular season.

One year later, the two programs met in the Division V final. Hilmar won 1-0, capturing the first of two straight section championships.

Two years later, with Bettencourt anchored to the sideline, Ripon began its run at a section title with a 2-0 win at Hilmar.

So Bettencourt has extra incentive. Having to sit and watch most of last season's playoff loss was torturous.

Instead of celebrating her 17th birthday by flying a third straight blue banner over her head, she found herself in a recovery room, shaking off anesthesia.

Haylee had surgery on her birthday, five weeks after being tackled from behind in a clash with Central Catholic.

The collision shredded the ACL in her left knee.

"I chose to have surgery on my birthday so that I"d remember it," she said.

This season, Bettencourt scored 30 goals and assisted on 29 others, helping Hilmar, the WAC's third seed, come within shooting distance of a conference championship.

She has 101 goals and 84 assists in three-play years at the varsity level.

"I didn't know that I'd be able to follow through with the rehab and actually (be) playing (again)," she said. "I didn't know I was this determined.

"I kept telling myself, 'Just a couple of more months. Just a couple of more months.' Pretty soon, it was 'Just one more day. Just one more day.' "

That day has come.

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